Patton Oswalt on new special, Star Wars, and Trump
The comedian dishes as 'Talking for Clapping' hits Netflix
Even since before Captain America and Iron Man dominate the summer box office, Patton Oswalt is letting his nerd flag fly. The standup comedian has drizzled his work with sci-fi and superhero references since the beginning of his career, and even went viral in 2013 thanks to his improvised, Star Wars-focused Parks & Recreation filibuster. To mark the April 22 release of his latest special, Talking for Clapping, on Netflix, EW spoke with Oswalt about the state of Star Wars, the plot possibilities of the Blade Runner sequel, and, of course, the development of his comedy.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How do you get feedback when a special goes live on Netflix? Will you be checking Twitter reactions and stuff?
PATTON OSWALT: I want to pretend like I’m above that stuff, but f— yeah I’m gonna be checking Twitter… I’m a comedian, I’m a narcissist! Of course I’m gonna check all that stuff out. Everyone that says, “I don’t read the comments,” just go, stop, you’re lying! Of course you do. Whenever someone says they don’t read the comment section, they have Google alerts not only on their name, but on every spelling of their name.
Each of your specials seems to demarcate a distinct point in your life or worldview. On one you’re swearing you’ll never have kids, on the next, you’re working through the fact that you are gonna have a kid, and then the last few are having a baby and stuff like that. What’s changed in your life since the last special?
Now I have a daughter that I’m not trying to keep alive. I have a daughter that I actually have to contend with as a personality and as a growing intellect. I’m very aware of, and you’ll see this on the special, I’m very aware of, okay, what direction do I want to push this person in? How conscious am I of the mistakes I made, that my parents made? I want to keep her away from those, but also, shouldn’t she have some mistakes to learn from? Instead of “new parent,” it’s “worried parent,” if that makes sense.
You’ve talked in the past about how becoming a famous comedian makes it harder to work out new material, especially now that everybody has cameras on their phones. Is that still a problem for you?
No, that was a problem a few years ago when it was a novelty and kind of new, and yeah, I would overreact a lot. But now I’m realizing they were acting like somebody with something new, and they were doing it ’cause they like what you do. It wasn’t out of any meanness, it was out of clumsiness. Now, I gotta say people have passed the threshold. At least what I’ve seen in live shows, putting up your camera to record stuff has become the new douchebag signal. And people are very aware of that and they try not to do it now. There are still people that do it, but they’re a very shrinking minority. People just know that’s a shorthand way to show you’re an idiot.
You’ve had a couple books out recently. What’s the difference between crafting a special and crafting a book?
They’re such different disciplines. With a book, you don’t get any feedback until you hand it in to an editor. For weeks and months, you’re sitting there completing your pages everyday. It’s not like you complete a page and send it in and go, “What do you think of this?” You don’t go up every night and read your pages, is what I’m saying. You kind of sit there, and do that stuff. And then with standup, you go up every night, and your peers are there, and the audience is there. So you have the one-two punch of both the audience and then your friends either laughing or not.
Do you have plans for any more books in the near future?
I have a very vague idea for a new book, but I don’t like talking about stuff before I start working on it. Here’s why: because then it feels like you get this false sense that, “Oh I’ve already done some work on it.” It kind of de-motivates you because you’ve already talked about it so much. And then when you sit down it’s like, “Didn’t I already write this?” So I’m trying to keep that silent.
You’re part of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 reboot — what’s it like to participate in one of these revivals of beloved old properties?
I can’t really speak to the overall revival of things, because a lot of stuff that’s being revived, I’m happy that it’s being revived or that they’re doing new iterations of it. MST3K, it wasn’t so much a narrative, it was he created this amazing structure for talking about and mocking things. So why not apply it? There’s plenty of bad movies out there! So let’s do it.
How does it compare to something like Honest Trailers in that respect?
I f—ing love Honest Trailers. But here’s what’s great about Honest Trailers: They’re not even making fun. Half of them are about movies that are great that they love. But it’s like, you never see the flaws in something clearer than when it’s something you love. When you hate something, there’s a level of dismissiveness, so how much scrutiny are you gonna put on it? But when it’s something that you love, and you watch it over and over again, you can’t help but go, “I love this thing but why the f— is that in there?”
It’s why the movies Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein are so amazing, because that was Mel Brooks making fun of flaws in things that he loved. He was obsessed with Westerns, was obsessed with the Frankenstein movies to the point that he had purchased all of Kenneth Strickfaden’s lab equipment from Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. He had it in his garage. That’s how obsessive he was. Now if you’re gonna be that obsessive of something, you will also go, “I can admit that this part was kind of stupid.” And that leads to better comedy.
Speaking of seeing the flaws in something you love, what was seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens and now the Rogue One trailer like for you, as someone who has gone deep on the badness of the prequels?
It took an outsider to do it. It wasn’t that J.J. Abrams continued the story or enriched the characters. People were like, “The Force Awakens is a remake of the original Star Wars…” Yes it is! He recreated the excitement of seeing Star Wars for the first time! That’s all he did. That’s all he had to do with that first one. Now they can get into the telling of the stories, and telling the stories we actually want to hear. I don’t need to see where Darth Vader came from as a character, but how do they f—ing steal the Death Star plans? And the movie I assume will end with handing them over to Leia. That’s amazing. That’ll be a really fun, action-packed movie.
I heard that Guillermo del Toro wanted to do a Godfather-style movie about the rise of Jabba the Hutt as a force in the crime world. Could you f—ing imagine that? I’ve even heard an idea floating out there that’s just like, “Get Kenobi.” Because when The Revenge of the Sith ends, Anakin is standing on that Star Destroyer, but he knows that Kenobi is alive. Wouldn’t he send people out? Where does he know where to find all these bounty hunters? Wouldn’t he immediately go, “First order of business, we have to kill this guy. We can’t get Yoda, he’s too powerful, but we can get this guy. Find him for me.” And then it’s like a Die Hard film but on Tattooine, where they’ve got him cornered and he’s just f—ing them all up.
And then it becomes like a Western.
Yes, exactly! It’s a f—ing Western. It’s a cat-and-mouse Western, but done with swords and pistols. There you go.
You also reference Blade Runner a lot in your comedy. Are you excited for the Blade Runner sequel
There’s a chapter from the book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, that they don’t use in the movie. But there’s a whole other police force in the city, made up of androids that don’t know they’re androids, and they’re hunting Blade Runners to protect themselves. It might be interesting to do a Blade Runner movie from the perspective of the androids, where the Blade Runner character is almost like a vampire, or the monster in Alien.
The other thing I’ve never agreed with, and I don’t care what Ridley Scott says, but Deckard can’t be an android. The whole theme of the movie has been wiped away. The whole idea of the movie is, these androids who can’t feel emotion are desperately doing anything they can to feel something, to be a human being. And this human, who has full access to his emotions, is numbing them with alcohol and indifference and cynicism. It takes one dying at the end for him to wake up and go, “Wait a minute, I’m wasting this,” and then he leaves with the other android. And in the original, yes she’s gonna die, but I’m gonna enjoy the time I have with her and be a f—ing human being. That’s a really poignant story that you throw out the window if he’s also an android. Well, then f— it, what’s the point of this movie?
It does get across a prominent theme from Philip K. Dick’s work, though, which is bringing up the possibility that reality is not what you think it is.
Oh, Jesus. Yeah, I’m rereading Deus Irae right now, and there’s also that moment where this reality that you know all the parameters and rules in? Oh no, you’re totally wrong. And there’s the other one where the guy’s working at his desk and he looks under the desk, and there’s this horrific alien creature, and he realizes that this whole thing he’s doing is bulls—.
Side note: Do you think Harrison Ford is reviving all his old film franchises just so he can kill himself off in all of them?
(Laughs) I never thought of that. Is he gonna do American Graffiti 2018 where he gets run over by a couple of street racers? They’ll never let Indiana Jones die, but yeah, holy f—, what if that’s what he’s doing? What if he wants to die and the only way he can is to kill off all his franchise characters? That’d be an amazing plot for a movie.
One of my favorite bits of yours is “Alternate Earth,” where you talk about how goofy and crazy the world has become. How do you relate that to now, when we’re in the age of Donald Trump?
I don’t want to sound paranoid, but the Trump thing really isn’t funny anymore. The fact that last night on both Fox and CNN, they both said versions of, “Wow, Trump’s rhetoric, suddenly sounding a little presidential.” A friend of mine pointed out that they keep leading off every newscast with “President Trump?” This is the same thing they did with the California recall election. Arnold was like, “I’m gonna run,” and everyone was like, “Ah ha ha.” But every newscast began with “Governor Schwarzenegger?” until it got so drilled into people’s heads that they were like, “OK, fine, vote him in.” That part is a little frightening to me. I try to be funny about it, but again, I’ve said this before, when people are like, “Oh, you comedians are really gonna be happy if Trump gets in” — no, we won’t! It’s at best 10 minutes of material, and it’s the same f—ing joke. I can write material about other stuff, thank you. I don’t need Trump to be president to have an act. It’s crazy, and it’s not f—ing funny. I just, ugh, what a horrible human being.
You’re a big presence on Twitter. Is there any relationship between Twitter and your comedy?
You know, there really isn’t. Twitter, for me, is purely fun, and I think the reason I’m good at is because I treat it as purely fun. If I treated it as anything else, it would really stink.